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Friday, March 1, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Same-Sex Couples Demand Spousal Benefits

BOSTON (CN) - Against the backdrop of a bid to overturn California's same-sex marriage ban, a group of gay spouses and widows in Massachusetts has sued various U.S. agencies and officials, claiming the federal government unconstitutionally denies them spousal benefits.

The plaintiffs are legally married in Massachusetts, one of the few states to recognize same-sex marriages. They claim that despite their valid state marriage, the U.S. government discriminates against them by blocking them from enjoying the same spousal benefits and protections that the heterosexual spouse of a U.S. worker would enjoy.

Some of those benefits include filing federal income taxes as a married couple, receiving the lump-sum death benefit of a deceased spouse, changing a last name based on a marriage certificate and receiving spousal Social Security benefits.

"Each plaintiff, or his or her spouse, has made one or more requests to the appropriate agencies or authorities within the federal government for treatment as a married couple, a spouse, or a widower with respect to particular programs or benefits," the lawsuit states.

"Yet each one of the plaintiffs has been denied and is still being denied legal protections and benefits under federal law that are available to a similarly situated person married to an individual of a different sex under Massachusetts.

"With each denial of specific protections or benefits, the defendants or their agents have invoked the Defense of Marriage Act ... and have stated that the federal government will only respect marriages between a man and a woman," the lawsuit claims.

Plaintiffs seek coverage for same-sex couples under the defendants' benefit programs and a declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

They also demand an injunction barring the defendants from treating them differently than heterosexual married couples.

Defendants are the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster General John Potter, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr. and the United States of America.

Plaintiffs are represented by Claire Laport with Foley Hoag LLP and David Nagle with Sullivan & Worchester LLP, both of Boston.

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